Social media has been a gift to Indonesian politicians competing for the powerful youth vote, but if you’re caught in a compromising situation with a teddy bear, it leaves you with nowhere to hide.
Aburizal Bakrie – millionaire owner of the Brisbane Roar A-League team and presidential candidate for the Golkar Party – was this week pictured on a blog, cuddling a giant teddy.
That seemed cute enough until a YouTube video showed the bear, 67-year-old Bakrie, a Golkar colleague and a pair of young actresses aboard a private jet on a jaunt to the Maldives in 2010.
Like his rivals, Bakrie is using a carefully managed online presence to engage Indonesia’s under 30s in the April legislative polls, and July presidential race.
So they knew exactly where to go to ask what the luxury trip was about, and why he went without his wife.
Social media has helped some Indonesian politicians ride huge waves of success, including Jakarta’s governor, Joko Widodo.
Others haven’t been so lucky. But they’d look more foolish if they didn’t campaign online.
Indonesians are the world’s highest users social networking apps Twitter and Path, and with 29 per cent of voters aged under 30, they have huge potential to affect the outcome of this year’s elections.
But despite the fact they wield huge power, it’s not easy to convince Indonesia’s youth they should vote.
It’s a problem in Australia too, where the electoral commission found about 25 per cent of people aged 18-24 who were eligible to vote in the 2013 federal election, did not enrol.
Two Indonesians who studied in Australia are leading the effort to get more people to the polls.
Pingkan Irwin formed Ayo Vote (Come on Vote) after returning to Indonesia from studying abroad and realising that even in this young democracy, voters had become complacent and cynical.
“The general perception about politics in Indonesia is that it’s very corrupt, and no matter who the politician is, they’re going to become corrupt once they get elected,” she says.
“The reason these incompetent people get elected is because we don’t vote.”
Fellow founder Abdul Qowi Bastian was studying at Melbourne’s Monash University in 2010 when the federal election result saw a large number of informal votes and produced a hung parliament.
He noted Australian politicians were dabbling in social media then, while in Indonesia, candidates have no choice but to reach out to a critical demographic.
“Considering the large number of young people eligible to vote this year, they’re going to play a huge role in deciding our country’s future leaders and how we move forward,” Qowi says.
The 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial race set the benchmark here for what a youth-centric change campaign could achieve.
Its winner, known as Jokowi and now also a presidential candidate, used web forums, videos and an addictive Angry Birds-style game to win a legion of young fans.
Two thousand of them were inspired to perform a flashmob in the city’s centre to a One Direction song, with its lyrics changed to a Jokowi campaign anthem.
But Jakarta-based technology writer Aulia Masna points out that was just one part of the saturation coverage Jokowi enjoyed.
“The influence of TV is still significantly much larger than the likes of Twitter or Facebook,” he says.
“But TV and other traditional media also take their news from social media, therefore social media presence and activities can help spearhead the image or intention that candidates want to project.”
Meanwhile, Bakrie has tried to turn the teddy story around by adopting the stuffed toy as a mascot.
At a family media conference, his wife assured reporters there was nothing untoward about the Maldives trip. Bakrie himself says it was a mission to research tourism, with celebrity sisters who are family friends.
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that even when you “go viral” for the wrong reasons, it never lasts long.